John Savage Sees WBC As Springboard For Team USA

John Savage (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

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Team USA's triumph against Puerto Rico on Wednesday in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic capped a thrilling tournament that captured the attention of baseball fans around the world.

The next USA Baseball team to take the international stage will be the Collegiate National Team, which will this summer play Cuba and Taiwan in friendship series. UCLA coach John Savage will manage this year's club and said he believes Team USA's success in the WBC will have a positive effect throughout the program.

"Every young baseball player who saw that can really dream about wearing the USA uniform," Savage said. "From the lower levels to the highest level. I think the exposure of having that across your chest, playing for your country, being one of the best players in the country at your age level gives a little extra meaning to that uniform. I think every player will want to experience that feeling of wearing the uniform and representing your country.

"I think it was a huge win for USA Baseball, the whole thing. The excitement around it, the exposure, how the big leaguers played, it was such a team concept that it could really trickle down to a lot of different people."

Of the 28 players on the final U.S. roster, 18 played in college, creating many interested viewers around college baseball. There were also several veterans of the Collegiate National Team, including Alex Bregman, who played for the CNT less than three years ago.

Many college coaches who have also worked with various levels of USA Baseball were caught up as well.

Savage enjoyed watching his former player Brandon Crawford shine on the big stage. The Giants shortstop drove in two runs in the final and played his typically strong defense.

"He's such a winning player," Savage said. "He's won a couple World Series and now, you don't know what this is going to be until it plays out. The way this played out, people will remember this even though it's in March. It had a different feeling to it."

The star of the final was righthander Marcus Stroman, who started the game with six hitless innings for Team USA. Eastern Kentucky coach Edwin Thompson, who was an assistant coach at Duke during Stroman's college career, was excitedly watching his former player, as he tries to do every time he pitches.

Thompson said Stroman's performance Wednesday reminded him of a time he struck out 17 against George Washington, though the stage was much bigger in the WBC.

"At times he would do stuff, just coaching him, you see his competiveness, his confidence, he makes everyone around him better," Thompson said. "He loves those moments, he lives for those moments. He was facing some All-stars in there, so it was pretty cool to see."

Thompson has coached with USA Baseball's 17U developmental program and in the Tournament of Stars, its annual event that is a part of the tryout process for the 18U national team. Thompson said he wore on Thursday the ring he received to commemorate the 18U team's gold medal to celebrate the WBC team.

"Having coached in NTIS and with 18U, it's a sense of pride," he said. "When you live it wearing USA across your chest, it's hard to describe. It's pretty cool to know you're a part of the organization and to see one of your former players have success at the highest stage."

The WBC seemingly found its footing this year and Team USA captured its most high-profile tournament since the 2000 Olympics. With that kind of exposure, international baseball gained some important momentum this spring. For college coaches who have long been involved in the program's amateur levels, it was n welcome sight.

"It had so much excitement behind it, the last four games, I think everybody was captivated by it," Savage said. "Crawford's three plays that one inning, he gets the bases loaded single, seeing that he was such a big part of it was a pretty neat deal for all of us."

News and Notes

Brendan McKay

Atlantic Coast Conference: Louisville lefthander/first baseman Brendan McKay is off to an incredible season both on the mound (4-0, 0.36) and at the plate (.466/.575/.741). He leads the ACC in both batting average and ERA, and has the distinction of having a higher batting average than ERA. But perhaps his most incredible statistical feat so far is having drawn as many intentional walks (six) as he has walked opponents. . . After playing its first two ACC series on the road (at North Carolina and Clemson), No. 19 Virginia will play its next three ACC series at home, the first time it has done that since 2001. Overall, the Cavaliers are in a stretch where they play 14 of 15 games at Davenport Field, where they are 11-1 this season.

Big 12 Conference: One of the reasons Texas Christian entered the year as the top-ranked team in the country was the experience and talent returning in its lineup. The Horned Frogs (14-5), now ranked No. 3, have struggled offensively in the early going, however. TCU is hitting .252/.364/.377 as a team and senior outfielder Nolan Brown (.343/.439/.471) is the lone regular hitting better than .290. The Horned Frogs are still averaging 6.79 runs per game, and coach Jim Schlossnagle said he has seen signs some of their hitters are close to working through their slumps, including Preseason All-American catcher Evan Skoug (.197/.345/.310). "He's making a lot of hard contact," Schlossnagle said. "His BPs have been better. I see him turning the corner. It hasn't necessarily shown up in base hits yet." . . . Kansas State beat Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday to improve to 15-6. The Wildcats didn't reach 15 wins until their 34th game last season and are off to their best start since 2010.

Big Ten Conference: No. 23 Michigan travels this weekend to Maryland for the first time under coach Erik Bakich, who coached the Terrapins for three seasons before the Wolverines hired him away in June 2012. It will be Michigan's first trip to College Park, Md., in more than 60 years.

Pacific-12 Conference Oregon lefthander David Peterson (4-1, 2.59) will carry a 22-inning scoreless streak into his start Friday against No. 22 Washington. The junior's streak dates back to Feb. 24 against UC Irvine and includes his last three starts. In his last three games, Peterson has struck out 39 batters, breaking former Ducks lefthander Tyler Anderson's record for most strikeouts in a three-game stretch.

Southeastern Conference: Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie has been dealing with some arm soreness for the last week. After missing last Tuesday's game against Florida State, he has been back in the lineup the last four games, but has played DH in three of them. Christian Hicks has moved from first base to shortstop to fill in for Guthrie, who is hitting .308/.385/.372 with five stolen bases. . . South Carolina’s Clarke Schmidt (3-0, 1.04) is slated to return to the rotation this weekend against Alabama after missing last weekend's series at Tennessee due to a minor oblique strain. The junior is slated to start Sunday, with righthanders Adam Hill (1-2, 1.54) and Wil Crowe (3-0, 2.73) remaining on Friday and Saturday. Schmidt was South Carolina's Friday starter before his injury. Righthander Cody Morris started in Schmidt's stead last Sunday, holding Tennessee to one run in 3.2 innings as South Carolina completed the sweep with a 10-2 victory.

Other conferences: Wichita State would accept an invitation to the American Athletic Conference, which is expected to make a decision on the matter soon, according to a report from ESPN's Andy Katz. According to Katz's report, Wichita State is the only school the AAC is considering for expansion. The American has 11 full members, but only eight play baseball, as Southern Methodist, Temple and Tulsa all don't have programs. The conference has finished in the top six in conference RPI every year since it was created following the Big East Conference's split after the 2013 season (it ranks fifth this season), but its small size creates some scheduling difficulties. While many conferences play 10 conference weekends, the American has only eight, requiring teams to find extra quality weekend opponents. The schedule also includes home-and-home series with one conference opponent, which helps foster rivalries, such as Central Florida and South Florida, but also can create drastically different strength of schedules in an otherwise balanced system. The addition of Wichita State would help many of the American's scheduling difficulties, while also adding a traditionally solid program, though the Shockers (11-10) are still rebuilding under fourth-year coach Todd Butler. Losing Wichita State would be a blow for the Missouri Valley Conference, which has enjoyed success in the last few years, highlighted in 2015 when Dallas Baptist and Missouri State both hosted regionals. . . Eastern Kentucky junior outfielder Daniel McFarland is having a breakout season at the plate. He is hitting .464/.519/.710 with four home runs, and has made a jump this spring, Thompson said. "He stays short with two strikes," Thompson said. "He's gotten stronger and added more extra-base hits, doubles and home runs. He has the ability to put the bat on the ball. His bat stays in the zone for a long time."